Women's Fighting in Foam Combat

Written by Annette Hein

Women don't achieve as much as men in Amtgard fighting, because women have a harder path. I believe that we as a game can change this.


It's well known that Amtgard has no recent female warlords. However, ORK data also shows that women fall behind early on, being less likely to advance at any stage of Warrior awards. This happens even though women players have the same attendance and lifespan in the game as men do, and even though women who do earn fighting awards progress through the first levels as quickly as men. Advancement stops at the level of kingdom tournaments, where no woman has won for years. The question becomes, what causes this achievement gap?


The answer presented here is based on 118,770 Online Record Keeper (ORK) records across the game, together with a recent 213-person survey of fighters, tournament results since 2016, and synthesis of statements from past discussions. A complete write-up can be found here. The data suggests that women have a harder path because of overlapping factors including sexism, training difficulties and physical differences. Some of these can be changed, some can't; but the discussion highlights actionable steps.


Many players will disagree, insisting the only important factor for any player's success is simple dedication. This explanation begins with the obvious: we have high standards for fighting and anyone who doesn’t train or compete won’t advance. Players with a narrow view of success insist that outside factors are irrelevant compared to individual commitment, and conclude that the game-wide, decades-long achievement gap is just the proper result of women’s choices. They lack perspective to see that the issues go beyond individual players, or that anything constructive can be done.


In fact, two other explanations recognize that outside factors matter. Some players go so far as to argue a diametrically opposite position: instead of stating that women are wholly responsible for their own success, they believe women cannot succeed because they lack the physical strength needed to compete with men. These players suggest forming a separate division for women, in line with mainstream sports up to the Olympics.


The third common explanation focuses on the social issues that can drive women away from fighting. It partially answers the question overlooked in the first argument, of why so many women stop fighting. These choices aren’t a sign of laziness or intrinsic lack of interest, but an understandable response to an unfortunate situation. In response to the assertion of the second argument that women aren’t capable of competing at high levels, this argument says we can’t know that until the extra informal barriers are removed and women are given a better chance.


Tracing a woman's growth as a fighter through survey results and existing discussion suggests physical limitations and social problems both matter. When women first encounter Amtgard, they meet a male-dominated environment that may be hostile and sexist; this can discourage women from being interested in fighting. At the intermediate stage of training, they face both physical differences and a training system that appears optimized for men, which combine to create a discouraging skill gap. Women drop away from fighting in large proportions at this stage. The few who remain are somewhat less likely to enter kingdom-level tournaments and much less likely to win them. This happens even though the player survey suggests that top women train at levels comparable to some men who win tournaments.


Since women on average have a harder path in fighting, it’s unsurprising that more of them focus elsewhere and fewer succeed. Even as we encourage individuals to persist toward their dreams, we should also work to improve the system. Amtgard is better now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue, I urge the community to take these specific actions:


  1. Engage in constructive discussion. Don't blame women for the state of women's fighting; do encourage individual players. Don't be hostile or defensive; do be open to criticism, ask questions, and keep an open mind--especially if you are a man who wants to help.

  2. Listen to women. If you’re a woman, don't dismiss other women; do speak about your views and experience. If you aren't a woman, don't talk over the women in the conversation, or talk so much that they’re crowded out; do listen to multiple women's perspectives.

  3. Reduce sexism in Amtgard culture. Don't sexually harass or assault women; do take reports seriously. Don't tolerate sexist behavior; do respond when you witness something, especially if you are a man. Don't overemphasize gender; do make your group welcoming and treat women as normal participants.

  4. Maintain high standards for fighting. Don't lower expectations for Warlord or other fighting awards; do improve support systems for female players to reach the standards.


With these ground rules, I encourage discussion of three open issues:

  1. Training: we need to accept that gender can matter to training. We should ask, what specific gender-based differences exist? How can our training systems account for them?

  2. Tournaments: few women enter open tournaments. We should ask, why don't more women enter more open tournaments? What could be done to change this?

  3. Recognition: we should at least discuss alternate ways to recognize women for fighting. (One suggestion is an optional women's league with a new award structure.) We should ask, when, if ever, should we try this? What are the risks and possible benefits?


I’m grateful to those who have already worked for progress in Amtgard’s fighting culture, but it should be obvious that we are not done improving. I look forward to what happens next.


Thanks to all who read and commented on this article!


Changes in Combat Styles

Written by Megiddo Sel Esdraelon


Full disclosure (and probably no news to most of you), but I am far from an expert practitioner. I have spent much of the last 20 years or so training with much of what was considered the "top" talent in Texas, specifically the Austin Torches and the Houston Rogues. My formative years were largely with the Rogue-style schools- specifically with Spyn, Shadow, and Arg - and my recent training has been with the Torches, particularly at the "Dojo" with Dalos, Drakknar, Arthon, and Sponge. There was some interim training with Sir Glen, who was accelerating up the curve at a rapid rate for the couple of years we trained together. Until recently, I would place my skill level as "below" or "far below" average; recently, I would say it is above average. In particular, I have had a lot of exposure to style, mechanics, and philosophy - even if this has not directly translated into personal skill. You can consider me an amateur and well-informed critic, even if I am not a master practitioner myself.


Of interest to me in this article is what I have seen as a change in general philosophy around the mechanical and methodological nature of Amtgard combat. In general, this can be summed up as a change from attack mechanics, speed, and dextrous misdirection to opponent reading (analysis), early-motion reading, range control and timing, and footwork. The basic gist of this shift is, if you know what your opponent will do and can do, and you can simply place yourself in an advantageous position at the right time, any simple chop will end the fight. Gregarious shot motions are unnecessary, and often the sign of an amateur, even if it is a successful amateur. This is why many competitors who show early promise are considered “unskilled” even though their apparent win-rate is significantly higher than average; the lack of methodological basis will become an intractable wall when facing top-end skilled talent. Advanced reading skills differentiate those who are merely fast from those who create a bewildering or confusing fight sequence and prevail with a high degree of regularity against virtually all opponents.


Hand Speed - stimulus response time and kinetic speed (how long you take to respond to input, and how quickly you move to respond). In general, the lower the response time and faster the kinetic speed, the better the outcome.

 Shot Selection - the raw variety of memorized motions available to the fighter. Chops, wrap shots, flat wraps, and the bevy of other specialized shots and motions available to a fighter.

Weapon Misdirection - feints, including weapon and body feints. This could include baits, but usually obvious baits of availability, as opposed to range control and positioning baits.

Attack mechanics, speed, and dextrous misdirection were mainstays of Amtgard combat when I began in the mid- to late 90s. Basically, what I am describing here are the variety of "wrap shots" and weapon dimensions developed heterogeneously around the nation - Rogue wraps, Torch wraps, skyhooks, scorpion shots, lassoing shots, long swords, and all the other severe misdirection constructions which serve to confuse your opponent while overcoming flat conic defenses. Similarly, longer, lighter weapons with significantly increased staccato and rhythm speed began to dominate at this time, including the rise of "speed poles" and other weapons which could bring "unrealistic" combat speeds to Amtgard. It is important to note that is the use of rapid redirection in Amtgard which is unrealistic, not the angular velocity of the shots themselves, as is commonly misunderstood. I distinctly remember the "secret of the wrap shot" being a point of contention in my first year of Amtgard. Of course, at that time, no one would really teach their combat secrets, so even getting instruction on such things was difficult (the resulting bifurcation in wrap shot styles still prevails, with no clearly dominant style). Of course, the real secret was that I didn't have the forearm strength to throw a wrap show with a 48" PVC sword covered in 3" of pipe insulation and duct-tape, but even with the ready advent of golf clubs and funnoodle, the use of such a mechanic would elude me. More bewildering was that by the time I had mastered it, the shot had largely become irrelevant as a key piece of top-end skill, as are virtually all single pieces of mechanical skill.


The heavy use of fast, highly obtuse of mechanical motions of the late 90s heavily favored those who were young, limber, fast, and strong. Height, as always, played a key role, but I suspect the physical advantage to greater reach was more significant during the 90s - I was insufficiently skilled to know for sure. Shot mechanics during the funnoodle era quickly wore out and injured some of the best fighters, and I would surmise that many great fighters, and even more that never quite made it, had careers cut short by these combat mechanics. If you started well before the mid-90s, the heavier weapons typically instilled better physical mechanics which helped to ameliorate injury in the move to funnoodle; if you started in the late 90s or early 2000s, your chance for serious repetitive injury was probably at the game's maximum level. On the other hand, a modicum of physical advantage, and a willingness to train harder could result in a significant rise above the curve in relatively short order.


I believe the major shift in methodology and mechanics occurred in the early 2010s with general exit of several dominant fighters of the 2000s; this shift moved the methodological meta from raw mechanical advantage to a much more nuanced philosophy of combat control. Of course, many of the top fighters were doing this all along - even those who gained dominance in the late 80s and early 90s. There was, in my mind, a concurrent thread during the prior decade in which these fighters also honed their training skills. Much of the improvement in training methods is directly owed to SKBC as a platform for encouraging openness in training. In truth, those trainers may not have even been aware of the types of top-end skillset they were leveraging, or were incapable of explaining this in any sort of structured way to newer fighters until relatively recently (and many of them are still not capable of transmitting this information successfully). This resulted in a heavy reliance on face-to-face training—which still dominates this sport, as well as all martial arts. In the late 90s through the early 2010s, if a new fighter had the aptitude to read and execute the advanced methods, they would then subsequently become advanced fighters themselves. Conversely, as training methods and philosophy have improved, so has the general skill level of "mid level" fighters.


 It is notable that much of our top-end talent has managed to stay relevant for multiple decades, and even new advanced fighters are increasingly older. Top-level talent in the late 90s was considered to be the domain of teenagers and those who could keep their elbows into their early 20s. In the last few years, we have seen several dominant fighters in the 30s and 40s, and even "new" top talent in the post-40 range. This has been a result, I believe, from a shift in pure mechanical advantage to much more advanced reading and control methods of fighting. There has also been a considerable uptick in active athletic training, that is, going to the gym for specific strength and endurance training. This type of focused piecewise athletic training has become more important to total development of fighting, as I will address later.


The new paradigm is to read and classify an opponent prior to a fight, then use a combination of set-up reads (early motion reading), range control and timing to dominate a fight. The result has been that the perception of fights for relatively unskilled fighters against top-end talent has shifted from a noticeable delta in speed and misdirection to simple bewilderment. It is often noted that many top-end fighters no longer seem significantly faster (or faster at all) than their opponents when watched externally, and yet from within the fight, the task of tracking them becomes nearly impossible.


Opponent Reading (analysis) - determining likely modes of attack and defense; known and suspected patterns of attack and defense, and weapon and defense capabilities. It is important for fighters to be able to winnow the flow of options in a fight as early as possible. Opponent analysis is the method by which fighters recognize fight patterns in other fighters, and exploit them.

Footwork - the key element to footwork is less in dynamic shot-motion in combat (which is really more important as a function of shot mechanics and selection), and more important as a source of passive defense and positioning. Much of the perceived passive defense of top-tier fighters actually originates in their feet (they are never quite where you believe they were); additionally, their ability to bring a wide variety of shot options to bear is position-dependent on countering the passive and active defenses of their opponents.

Timing and Range Control - all fighters have preferred engagement ranges and timing for setups and shot production; controlling range and timing is a key factor in determining shot selection and passive and active defense. When fighters discuss “controlling a fight”, this and footwork positioning are key elements.

Early Reading - this is the ability to read an opponent shots just prior to accelerated motion, including feints and baits. Due to the raw speed of combat at point-blank-range, this reading ability is key to in-game volleys, offense and active defense.


It is important to note that the combat speed of Amtgard far surpasses the conscious reading speed of the human visual cortex. Even the early visual cognitive stages cannot possibly read complete motions of weapons, body, and limbs in real-time. At best, it is inferred from gross motions and then recalled later from a more-or-less accurate internal model of combat. This is in general why there is so much bad shot-calling (by participants and reeves alike). The only way to read a fight is to run it at a fraction of full speed from a recording, which then introduces significant issues around parallax. For instance, a typical Amtgarder is probably more than capable of swing at 60+ MPH at the "sweet spot" of a sword; the typical short sword is traversing the shot distance from initiator to the target in the sub 100ms range. That is literally faster than the blink of an eye, and is twice the speed of stimulus-to-response time for the human saccade speed [] (that is, the shot has landed by the time that even the earliest stages of subconscious visual systems have fully engaged an unprepped visual system). In truth, all in-combat reading occurs at only the earliest stages of motion, prior to the bulk of accelerated arm motion. Dominant fighters are capable of reading and responding to the "intent of motion" with a much greater degree of success than other fighters, by directing high-speed lower-level response mechanisms towards more crucial areas of interest in a fight. New and mid-level fighters simply don’t even know where to look, or what to look for.


Additionally, top-end fighters read combat staging prior to the onset of any fast-response stimulus, and create spacing and angling which promotes good outcomes well before actual combat is initiated. All of this early stage pattern-matching can be taught (hence the reliance on block-strike and other training tools by some schools). Getting "in the zone" for most fighters is really the art of quieting the consciousness and letting the high-speed reaction centers of the brainstem do the heavy lifting. Truly top-end fighters leverage these high-speed reaction centers (which have response times as low as 30ms) more economically by creating an environment in which they can dominate before the fight has occurred. Mid-level and lower fighters are hoping to compete once the fight has already commenced, and are relegated to relying on neurological tools which operate at the 200+ms range and in the worst case, the neocortex, with response rates in the 700+ms time (worse than 1/20th the speed of brain stem responses).


The advancement in fighting mechanics has then been a shift from wild, fast, and obtuse mechanical actions, to simultaneous use of higher-orders of combat cognition paired with the lowest levels of the brainstem fast-response mechanisms. The top-end fighters are training to create an environment in which they can bring the most effective high-speed-pattern-matching skills to bear more often and earlier than their opponents. As mentioned, these skills are opponent style reading (analysis), footwork and positioning, range control and timing, and early-reading mechanisms (reading intent). The particulars of the win condition (wrap shot, chop, spin shot, etc) are really just flavor. The fight is won in the setup stages, and through effective execution of motions learned by rote training.


It should be obvious then, that is has become more important than ever to identify and train in a productive manner. Because the modern paired cognitive combat methods are significantly more complicated than the old style of “faster is better”; there is a significant investment of a fighter’s time in the acquisition of skill, and if that investment is made in the wrong way, it will be a serious impediment to a fighter’s progress, which may take years to correct.


As a general rule, the areas of combat which I believe are most productive (and have become dominant in combat practice) are in opponent reading (opponent analysis), footwork, timing and range control, and early-reading practice. If you are currently training, and focusing on hand-speed (excessive bag work) and shot mechanics (various wrap shots, trick shots, etc), then you may be over-training on areas of the sport which are not necessarily productive precursors to top-end skill. For instance, while block-strike is a good training tool for learning some types of early opponent shot reading, overtraining on block-strike can lead to readily recognizable timing and patterns-of-motion that can be exploited by superior (and sometimes inferior) competitors. When you are training with partners or superior fighters, you should be working on holistic methods that encourage dominance of a fight prior to full-speed engagement. You should focus on training regimens which encourage early-reading skills, reading setups, and reading style (analysis). This includes range, alignment, body and limb placement, shot availability (especially for shots which are not readily visible prior to engagement, or are not visible at any time during an engagement), and opportunities of attack and defense. For instance, many top-end fighters are capable of reading the “win condition” of a fight they are watching between two competitors just prior to engagement. This skill can be taught (verbally and by example) and practiced, and should be.


So where is fighting methodology transitioning from here? I’m not sure on the specific mechanics, although I feel that is become increasingly irrelevant. I have no real aptitude for physical sports, so I will have to leave the details up to those that do. I would contend that there has a been a significant and permanent shift in meta-analysis and combat philosophy; I do not think there were will be further significant shifts in performance in the future—that is, I believe our top-end fighters are now often competing within a large proportion of their full neurological and mechanical capacity. I believe there is obvious room for improvement in the quality of the fighters; clearly, we are not subjected to a regular spate of olympians in our sport or nearby sports, but I don’t think those people would be using significantly more advanced combat tools than are already available to our current top-end talent. They may process faster neurologically, operate faster mechanically, or master the various pre-volley and in-combat reading skills to a higher degree, but I do not think there will be another significant shift in methodological approach by students.


That being said, I still believe there is significant room for advancement among our trainers. As our top-end branches out to other more established martial arts, I believe we will see significant improvements in the broad application of advanced and well-structured instruction and I believe this process may engage our current top talent for the next several decades.


Sexual Assault Doesn't Happen In a Vacuum

Sexual assault in the medievalist communities is a problem, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Abusers tend to show a pattern of abuse, and it is the responsibility of the community to address these issues before they escalate. The problem is that the community is bad at seeing these patterns. For every person who says “I can’t imagine that Johnny would rape that woman” there are three people, probably women, who knew for a fact Johnny didn’t understand what was acceptable behavior towards women and what wasn’t. They simply didn’t have anybody to tell, or the people they did tell didn’t know how to listen. We need to get better at listening to these people.


Sexual assault happens in these communities because we allow it to. We tolerate sexual harassment, discrimination, the portrayal of women as something “less”. We create an environment where we normalize those behaviors and it encourages people with a predilection for those activities. We are signalling to them, subtly, that it’s okay. We agree with you. Go ahead, that woman won’t talk. She’s just playing hard to get, right? Go on, she’ll thank you in the morning when she sobers up.


Thankfully, there are concrete steps we can take today to fix it. Some of these changes are institutional, some of them are cultural, and some of them are personal.


Institutional changes are the most visible ones, and that makes them the most important in some ways. It makes a visible statement about what we value as a community and how seriously we take things. Ironically, they will often have the least impact on the day-to-day lives of members of the organizations. Here are a couple necessary actions at the institutional level:


1 - Institute a visible, active sexual harassment Ombudsman program that guarantees discretion and anonymity of the people bringing them concerns. This program is a first-line option where people can go to raise concerns and issues when they are subjected to, or witness, behavior that they find concerning. The Ombudsman cannot ban or remove players, but rather is empowered to listen, support, investigate, and help organize the appropriate local and national level response to any issues they discover. This creates a point of contact that people with concerns can reach out to, and know somebody will take them seriously, *before* somebody is raped or assaulted. Amtgard already has a system along these lines set up and has several years of metrics to backup the efficacy of the program.


2 - The national leadership should make a public statement that they have no tolerance for sexual harassment or discrimination within the organization. Likewise they should have no tolerance for people who engage in sexual harassment or discrimination. This should be a clear and decisive statement that spells out why the statement is being made and that it is necessary to create a safe environment for all members of the community to enjoy.


Culturally we need to see a change at the group level. Group leaders need to talk openly about the problems in their area with sexual harassment and tell people clearly it’s not acceptable. Make a commitment to equality and respect for all genders and basic human rights an explicit stance the group as a whole takes. Culturally, we can do these things:


1 - Draft a written statement that your group does not promote or accept sexual harassment or gender discrimination. Outline examples of what that means. Be clear that sexual harassment doesn’t have to be blatant or dramatic to be problematic. Be clear that low-level forms of discrimination and harassment are what cause rape and assault to become problems in the first place. Take a stance that any player engaging in it will be warned and corrected, then suspended for a period of time, then banned from the group if they can’t figure it out.


2 - Leadership should be vocal about making sure people feel comfortable in the environment. A group leader is responsible for being available to listen to complaints, moderate discussions, and give polite, but firm, correction to those who need help adhering to the policy. Don’t do it in the dark or in secret; When somebody is given a warning for sexual harassment or discrimination make it a matter of public record. Post it on your Facebook group. Announce it at the park. Don’t be cruel or a dick about, just be matter-of-fact: “Hey guys, today Johnny and I had a talk about his comment that women don’t belong on the field. As you all know, our group supports having everybody on the field regardless of gender. Johnny understands he made a mistake and has agreed to be more careful in the future. We look forward to helping Johnny through this transition period and seeing him at the park next week.”

The biggest change is going to come from our individual changes. The way we talk, the things we think, the nature of our relationships with members of the group. These are going to have the biggest impact on the environment we put forth to our members. Here’s a few dos and dont’s that can make a huge difference in how you present to other people


*Do This*

  1. Express discomfort when people make discriminatory or offensive comments based on gender.

  2. Always ask permission before touching somebody in anything beyond what would be acceptable for a person you had just met. Ongoing consent is fine, but never assume pre-existing consent unless explicitly given.

  3. Treat people based on their individual merits, rather than on their gender.

  4. Make an effort to include new members, regardless of gender, in the group as a whole. Members who are seen as “outsiders” are more likely to be victimized.


*Don’t Do This*

  1. Don’t make rape jokes.

  2. Don’t use “woman”, “girl”, or any other gender descriptor as a pejorative. For instance never say somebody “fights like a girl.”

  3. Do not praise women based on their performance as a woman. For instance do not say “you’re a pretty good fighter for a girl.”

  4. Avoid the use of “girl” entirely when describing adult women. Unless you would describe a man in the same situation as a “boy” it is inappropriate to describe a woman as a “girl”.

  5. Do not engage in physical intimacy at any level with somebody who is intoxicated unless you have prior ongoing consent. Even then, think twice.

About Backstabbing

Hitting people from behind so they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves is generally not enjoyable for the people you're hitting. People have the most fun when combat is based on the opportunity for each participant to have agency and contribute to the interaction. Hitting people from behind when they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves is one of those behaviors that maximizes the success of one player by minimizing the fun of the players they are interacting with by denying them agency.


When we redesigned the rules for Amtgard there was an active effort to eliminate situations that rendered players helpless or hopeless; Extended instant-death spells were removed, engulfing instant-kill spellballs were removed, and classes had a lot of counter abilities added. The goal was to give players the ability to interact with their opponent in a useful, meaningful way. That's why typically you can feel like you're doing well and having fun in Amtgard even when you're still losing. Hitting people from behind so they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves is counter to that concept. You can determine that it's true by observing that people who are doing it to others enjoy it, and people who are receiving it do not enjoy it.


So given all of that, when is hitting people from behind so they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves ever a responsible action? The answer is that it's generally acceptable in environments where all participants are competitively engaged in trying to win. Within the context of foam fighting that typically means objective-based battlegames like "Point Control", "Ring the Bell", or "Very Heavy Object". In those games the group understanding is that the goal is to win, and anything within the spectrum of the letter and the spirit of the rules is generally acceptable to reach that goal. Basically, it's okay to hit people from behind so they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves when everybody agrees that it's okay.


When is it *not* okay to hit people from behind so they don't have an opportunity to defend themselves? The answer to that is likewise pretty obvious: When people don't want you to. If the people participating in the ditch at your park are making an effort to announce themselves when they get behind their opponents, then you should be doing the same. If the people in a ditch are working on team tactics that include running flanks and hitting people who don't have an opportunity to defend themselves, then feel free. If most of the people are announcing themselves, and one or two guys are not, then err on the side of not reducing other players fun and likewise announce yourself.



Keep in mind that if you violate the societal norms and choose to engage in practices that reduce the enjoyment of other players in order to maximize your own you will likely find yourself subject to some of the following consequences:

1. You will probably be talked to privately about how your behavior is innapropriate and asked to correct it.

2. If you persist beyond that, players will stop liking you. You've demonstrated that you don't care about their enjoyment, and that makes people not care about yours.

3. You will find yourself excluded from group activities and social circles. People generally do not socialize or work to include people whom they dislike.

4. Eventually it's possible you will be suspended or removed from the group entirely.


All of that aside here's some quick rules of thumb for etiquette on how to not overly minimize other players fun while still depriving them of an opportunity to defend themselves:

A. Don't focus on just one player. Spread it around.

B. Running a flank is almost always acceptable as long as you start off engaging a player in combat. This takes away the issue of not realizing that a person isn't just a random bystander or sitting a round out.

C. Don't do it exclusively. Giving players an opportunity to see that you're also participating in combat gives them a better feeling about it when you do deprive them of their opportunity to defend themselves.

D. Stay within the obvious playing area. Leaving the immediate area of play and then re-entering it behind a player is cheating. You will upset people quickly by cheating and will soon be suspended from participating for the day.

E. Make it obvious at all times that you are actively engaged in combat rather than being a bystander. Due to the nature of our games, it's often the case that reeves/heralds, non-players, dead players, and bystanders are intermixed on or near the combat field. If you make an effort to look harmless or otherwise look like you are a person that players cannot strike, then you are *not engaged in combat*. If you then use that as an opportunity to strike players you are cheating. You will upset people quickly by cheating and will soon be suspended from participating for the day.

F. Have a good attitude about it. Do not gloat, taunt, or mock the person whose fun you already just minimized. Doing that creates a hostile environment for the other players and you will eventually be removed from the group if that behavior persists.

Managing Disagreements and Outside Perception for Amtgard

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the intersection of race, culture, and self-expression. Some, perhaps most, of that discussion has been very heated and fraught with terms and language that encourage and widen divisions in our society. The arguments become about the terms, rather than the goals. Rather than what we believe in. This happens because being affronted and being angry, personifying your frustration and then castigating it, is a release. It’s a way to take a difficult, fuzzy, nebulous and thorny problem and turn it into something concrete. I can’t yell at an idea, but I can yell at a person. I can FIGHT a person, even if I can’t win; We get to cast people as hero and villain and say that this person is right, and this person is wrong, and there are clear, simple delineations in the world. It’s an appealing concept to the way our brains are wired.

And I want you to stop. I want you to stop today. This hour. This minute. This very moment. I want you to stop because, deep down, it isn’t the person you want to be. It isn’t the society you want to be a part of. It isn’t the person I want you to be.

What we should strive for instead is to be the best possible version of Amtgard. The version of Amtgard that is inviting, open, and fun for people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds. The version of Amtgard that grows by leaps and bounds through both welcoming new members and keeping current members interested and positively engaged. How we achieve that version of our society is a wide topic. Some of it focuses on how the rules operate, or how we run the elected offices, or how we manage local and interkingdom events. The narrow slice I want to address right now is how we handle disagreements with each other and how we manage perception to the world at large.

Handling disagreements within a group as large and diverse as Amtgard is about each individual in the group following some basic guidelines. When these guidelines are followed, we get conversation and resolutions. When they aren’t, we harden our opinions and get nothing but frustration and resentment.

  1. Avoid language that is designed to upset or anger the people you are communicating with. Instead, use words that serve to explain clearly and conversationally your concern or problem without attempting to aggravate the person you are speaking with. Consider the differences between the statement “You are the problem” and “this is an example of behavior that is problematic.”
  2. Avoid applying labels with negative connotations. Calling somebody a “closet racist” or a “social justice warrior” changes the discussion from being about the root behavior and becomes an argument about proving or disproving the label. This solves nothing, and is inherently unproductive. Instead, address people by name and talk about specific behavior you find problematic.
  3. Don’t engage with or respond to baiting. If you feel like you can’t see another response from a person without responding negatively, use the “block” function in Facebook.
  4. Don’t post angry. If you have a strong immediate, visceral reaction to a message or comment don’t respond to it for a while. Get up, go for a walk, play fetch with your dog, or get a cup of coffee. Do something else, come back in an hour, and then respond to it. It will keep.
  5. Finally, allow people an avenue to apologize and admit a mistake gracefully. Everybody will make mistakes from time to time, and that’s all they are: Mistakes. Assume the best intentions of your fellows and they will be more willing to change their minds when presented with an alternative.

Managing perceptions to the outside world is tricky. Even with all of the mainstream progress combat sports and LARPs have made in the last twenty years, it’s still a very strange and niche concept to a lot of people. It’s something that a lot of people have a very disjointed or incomplete view of. Somebody who views the “FIREBALL” video is going to have a very different concept of what we do than somebody who views an Armored Combat League promotional video. Both are partially true, but both are also completely inaccurate in their own ways. The primary way for us as a society to manage those perceptions is through our online resources and activities, and the primary goal of managing those perceptions is to present our best face to the rest of the world. Here are some things to keep in mind regarding our presentation.

  1. New people know very little about us. They don’t have any Amtgard context to apply to Amtgard. Things that we know do not have racist intent can appear that way to people without context to guide them. That doesn’t mean those things are wrong to do at Amtgard, but it means we must be conscious of when context is vitally important to what we’re doing.
  2. Amtgard is disproportionately white and male. It’s great that we are so successful with the white male demographic, but it makes it daunting for people who don’t look like us to reach out and join the organization. This isn’t because Amtgard is inherently unaccepting of diversity, but it does mean we need to take extra steps to be welcoming.
  3. Our online resources are about expanding our potential recruiting pool, not limiting it. If a resource can be made to appeal to more people rather than excluding people, and that doesn’t cost us a lot of effort, we should take that step. It’s the efficient, reasonable step to take.
  4. Things that are acceptable in person and between friends are not always appropriate for impersonal, public consumption. A prime example of this is the use of subtle irony that revolves around the audience knowing you personally. A warlord making a joke about “those dirty cheating warlords are ruining Amtgard” is funny to the people who know the warlord, but it’s just a guy complaining about cheaters to the new player who just joined your community. That sort of thing can be inadvertently harmful when applied to the concepts of race, sex, religion, or culture.

Given all of our personal views, backgrounds, and cultures it’s obvious to me that Amtgard is not an inherently discriminatory society. Furthermore, I firmly believe that when it comes to true acts of intentional discrimination on race, religion, or culture Amtgard shows its best side and deals with it expediently and professionally. What we, collectively, are bad at is being willing to assume the best in one another. Being willing to listen to one another and be flexible in our attitudes and behavior in order that all of us should get the best experience we can from our society. What we are struggling with isn’t a culture of racism or discrimination; It’s a culture of being obstinate simply because we would rather be “right” than actually be in the right. So take a moment, take a step back, and realize that tearing each other down achieves nothing. Instead, help Amtgard be the best version of itself, and show that version to the world.

Ban Your Toxic Players

Parks struggle with recruiting and retaining new players. One of the primary contributors to that ongoing problem is the Toxic Player. You know the guy I’m referring to. He probably popped up into your head the moment you read the phrase. He’s the guy that you really hope doesn’t show up to the park this weekend. The guy that you try and keep new players away from. The guy that, ultimately, you may decide you would rather not go to the park than deal with him.


It turns out that a lot of park problems are caused by this guy or gal. Tensions get raised, normally reasonable people have less fun because of the stress, and you end up with a situation where the group as a whole becomes prone to making mountains out of molehills. If Toxic Player explodes over not being on the right team in a battlegame, why wouldn’t other players get upset over being hit in the head? It sets a bad precedent that has consequences in lots of ways.


Your Toxic Player is taking away from the group attendance and fun while giving the group stress and irritation. Why put up with it?

Okay, so your group has a Toxic Player. What do you do about it? First, let’s talk about how to tell the difference between a player you don’t personally like and a truly Toxic Player. Here’s some of the traits a Toxic Player might have. They may have different traits entirely, but these are pretty common.


Warning Signs Of A Toxic Player

  1. Argues Constantly  
    The player will vehemently disagree, at length, about anything and everything that happens in the park (either in-person or in online venues like Facebook). They are generally unwilling to accept any answer or solution that doesn’t support their goals or viewpoints. This is about control and reinforcing their self-worth, not about reaching consensus or solving a problem.


  1. Poor Winner
    The player will go on about how great their victory was, no matter how small or trivial. They emphasize their role, downplay the role of others, and generally use any success to build up their image while tearing down the image of others.


  1. Poor Loser
    The player only ever loses because the game was unfair, rigged, the teams weren’t balanced, the rules were bad, their team members were awful, or some other reason. They get upset and vocal when they lose and never take any responsibility for their part in it.


  1. Know It All and/or Liar
    The player has all the answers to everything, whether you want to hear it or not. They are a lawyer, a doctor, a Warlord, a soldier, and everything in between. They have done everything, seen everything, and you better listen to them because they know better than you.

  2. Braggart
    No matter what anybody else has done, the player has done it better. You could have just won the Mister Olympia competition, but this guy is ready and eager to tell you about when he could bench press 900lbs. That was before he took an arrow to knee, of course.


  1. Always Negative
    This player can always be reliably counted upon to provide a negative comment on whatever you’ve done. This isn’t constructive criticism, joking around, or being playful: They really just have nothing positive to say about what anybody else does or thinks. The best you can hope for is that they keep quiet.


  1. Frequent Drama
    Drama seems to follow this player around like a cloud. Everything they touch gets blown way out of proportion. An accidental hit to the head? Clearly a concussion. Lost an election? There was cheating and corruption. Any problem they have becomes the center of the universe and everybody needs to hear about it. Loudly, in public, and at length.


  1. Cheats
    The player abuses the rules, looks for gray areas, finds loopholes, blows off shots, and generally can’t be trusted to play fair. This kind of player creates a lot of extra work and frustration for the group leaders while yelling their battle-cry “Show me where it says I can’t do that?!”


  1. Never Happy
    Nothing that happens ever makes this player happy. Things were always better in the past, nothing current leadership or members can do will ever measure up, and the game is generally terrible. No matter how much fun people around them are having, they are complaining about how bad it is.


  1. Will Not Change
    This is the key component of a Toxic Player. Most players, even good or great players, have some of these traits some of the time. Everybody has a bad day, week, or month. But a truly Toxic Player is one who won’t admit their problem when it is addressed with them. They don’t think their behavior is wrong, and they aren’t interested in ‘fixing’ it. They often advise other people to “grow a thicker skin” or say “that’s just how I am”.


A Toxic Player is one who has trait number ten (Will Not Change) combined with any of the other traits (or maybe a totally different trait that isn’t listed here). Given that definition, the first step in dealing with a Toxic Player is to talk to them about their behavior. The park officials (or any member of the park, really) should be straight-forward, honest, and kind. If you need some guidance or inspiration on how to start that conversation, here’s a canned format you can use:


“Randall, I’ve noticed that you’ve been arguing with other members of the group a lot lately. It’s okay to have an opinion and to talk about it, but once the group has decided on a course of action it’s time to let it go and move on to other things. Your recent behavior has been disruptive and is hurting the enjoyment of the other players.”


The vast majority of the time this approach solves the problem almost instantly. As soon as people have it pointed out to them that they were doing something that was hurting the group, they fix it. These people aren’t Toxic Players at all, they are just regular guys who need somebody to prod them a bit and point out when they aren’t being helpful.


A truly Toxic Player, the kind you should ban, doesn’t respond well to this approach. Often they will attempt to defend or justify their actions rather than apologize and improve. Sometimes they will seem contrite, but won’t actually change their behavior. In either case it’s imperative that you draw a line in the sand and then get them out of your group. They are hurting your park, and hurting your game.

So you’ve identified your Toxic Player, you’ve talked with them, and nothing has changed. It’s time to kick them out. How do you handle that? If you’re a park official, you’ve already got the power to do that. The rules make clear that you are the person in charge of ousting people who create toxic environments for other players. If you’re not a park official, you will need to work with your park official to get the job done. Either way, the process is pretty simple:

Getting Rid of A Toxic Player

  1. Step One: Put together a list of specific instances where the Toxic Player showed problematic behavior that negatively impacted the group’s fun or health.


  1. Step Two: Document that you discussed the specific and general behaviors with the Toxic Player and how they responded.


  1. Step Three: Identify recurring behavior after the discussion with the Toxic Player that indicates an unwillingness or inability to change for the better.


  1. Step Four: Have an open discussion with the group about the issue, present your case, get their overall opinion, and then act on it.

The process of getting rid of a Toxic Player can take a couple of months to do it right, but it’s imperative for the health and enjoyment of your group. Remember: Playing with your group is not a right, it’s a privilege. You are under no obligation of any sort of let Toxic Players ruin your fun with their unacceptable behavior.

Critical Distance Control

This article is reprinted with the permission of James Stapleton over at Omni Movement. Check them out at and find them on Facebook at

Control of distance is a concept familiar to anyone who has ever been involved in combatsports. It’s a common phrase among coaches, commentators and even couch potatoes. There are many complex factors at play when controlling distance. Fighters need to be taught important skills such as measuring distance and manipulating distance in order to control it. However,  before getting into the “how”, we need to understand the “why”. In the second installment of this ongoing series breaking down fundamentals, we’re going to take a close look at the concept of critical distance.

Critical distance is a universal concept that is found in all styles of combat. While the precise definition varies somewhat from style to style, the general idea always remains the same: critical distance is the range at which your attacks will be the most effective and your opponent’s the least effective. Those familiar with the Sweet Science will recognize immediately how critical distance is, well, critical to a fighter’s ability to “hit and don’t get hit”. The very definition of controlling distance is forcing the fight to take place at your critical distance instead of your opponent’s. It is obviously impossible to constantly maintain the same range for the entire fight, but if the fighter is able to ensure that the majority of exchanges take place at his preferred range, then he will almost always win the fight.

The pertinent question at this point is what determines critical distance? Some might answer that question by saying the build of the fighter. Taller fighters are better on the outside and shorter fighters are better on the inside, right? While there’s certainly truth to the notion, it doesn’t always work out exactly that way. For a simple illustration, a tall wrestler’s critical distance may actually be closer than a short kicker’s critical distance. Thus, critical distance is more accurately determined by what tools the fighter prefers to attack with. Granted, the build of the fighter has a significant influence on which tools he develops. A tall fighter with long limbs will often prefer straight punches and straight kicks, while a shorter, more compact fighter may prefer tight hooks, uppercuts and low kicks. However, there is enormous variation in skill-sets and styles even among fighters of similar builds, making critical distance unique based on the preferred weapons of the individual. It’s important to note that every attack has its own ideal distance, which contributes to the overall concept of a fighter’s critical distance.

As we now understand it, critical distance is the range at which a fighter can initiate his most effective attacks without having to worry about his opponent’s most dangerous weapons. It is helpful to have a general understanding of range. Different styles will break distance down into different ranges. I’ve often encountered the idea of four fighting ranges: kicking range, punching range, clinching range and grappling range. Personally, I prefer to break range down into three categories—long range, medium range and close range. The reason I prefer this system is that it is a little more flexible and accounts for multiple strikes being thrown within the same ranges. For example, at what is often called “punching range”, a fighter is also often at a good distance to attack with kicks, knees, elbows, and even shot based takedowns. Similarly, a fighter at “kicking range” may be attacking with a variety of kicks all of which have a different ideal distance. To account for this variability, I say that fighters either like to fight on the outside (long range), in the pocket (medium range) or on the inside (close range). The exact definitions of these ranges isn’t of great importance, as it’s more important to remember that every strike has its own unique ideal distance. To put it simply, long range is outside or just at the edge of arm’s reach, medium range is within arm’s reach, and close range is body-to-body contact.

In order to get a clearer understanding of how a fighter benefits from controlling critical distance, let’s examine a few notable cases, starting with Anthony Pettis. “Showtime” is a fighter whose critical distance is relatively simple to figure out. Remember, the best way to determine critical distance is by first identifying a fighter’s most effective weapons. For Pettis, it’s clearly his rear leg round kicks to the body and head. Hidden in a dazzling array of jumping and spinning kicks, the real core of Pettis’ game is simply feinting a rear straight and throwing a rear kick. He kicks so hard, so fast and with so much accuracy behind his feints that standing at long range with him is nearly a suicidal proposition. Even the notoriously durable Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and Joe Lauzon all folded under his kicking onslaught when they hung around on the outside.

Pettis circles back and to his left, the direction that will create the most space against his orthodox opponent. He springs forward with a quick combination. The punches are crisp, but Pettis isn’t loading up or sitting down on them. He just wants to see how Lauzon responds, and give Lauzon something to think about as he walks forward. Later in the fight, he flashes a few more quick punches, again without any real hurting intent behind them. Immediately after, he feints a 1-2 and destroys Lauzon with a perfect left high kick. This is what happens when you let a fighter establish his critical distance. Pettis is free to work his setups and initiate his favorite offense, while Lauzon is stuck reacting and unable to get anything off. It’s clear that to beat Pettis, a fighter must do their best to make sure that exchanges aren’t taking place on the outside. However, it isn’t as simple as just closing the distance, as Gilbert Melendez found out:

Coming forward aggressively, Melendez overall did a good job of staying out of the ideal distance for Pettis’ kicks. However, he was too desperate to avoid that range. Knowing he had nothing for Pettis at long range, he was swinging wildly and predictably coming forward. This meant that even though he was getting closer to what should have been his own critical distance (the pocket for his punches, the inside for his wrestling), he was putting himself in bad positions and making it easy for Pettis to time him. As a result, he got hurt by counter punches before leaving his neck exposed on a desperate shot and tapping to a guillotine. Critical distance isn’t as simple as “Pettis wins at long range, Melendez wins at medium range”. Melendez left himself too vulnerable, even at ranges that should have been favorable to him, all because he needed to avoid Pettis’ critical distance so badly. There was a man who was able to establish his own critical distance against Pettis AND be competitive even at Pettis’ critical distance, which is why that man is the current lightweight champion.

As Pettis attempts to circle and create space, dos Anjos calmly cuts him off. He stays in front of Pettis flashing his jab, and slams kicks into his body at range. He’s then able to step in behind his jab and smash Pettis in the face with a left straight. This is the exact opposite of what we saw against Lauzon—RDA is now the one getting his shots off while Pettis is reactive. Dos Anjos establishes his critical distance by showing Pettis that he’s dangerous at long range with his kicks in order to back Pettis up, then stepping into the pocket once Pettis has nowhere left to retreat. From the pocket, dos Anjos was able to land hard punches on Pettis, and also initiate his takedowns.

Pettis’ inability to get space meant that even though he was able to return fire in spots and throw a few of his own kicks, he was fighting a losing fight. Dos Anjos, by forcing both the striking and grappling exchanges to take place at his optimal range, controlled the majority of the One of the most important lessons to learn when studying critical distance is that to be great, a fighter must be competent at every range. If there is a range where you have absolutely nothing for your opponent, then any decent strategist will find ways to shut you down. Perhaps the best illustration of this concept in MMA history was seen during Holly Holm’s unbelievable upset of Ronda Rousey. Coming into the fight, everyone had a very clear intuitive understanding of Rousey’s critical distance. She’s a clinch master. If you let her tie you up, she’ll knee you in the liver then toss you on your head.

The general consensus coming in was that Holm was going to get tossed and submittedfast enough to fit the fight on Instagram. However, what we as a whole ignored was the fact that Rousey truly had nothing to threaten Holm with at long range. In the pocket, Rousey had shown some power, but there was no evidence to suggest that she could beat Holm there either. In other words, while most assumed that Rousey would get into close range and win, few truly considered the implications of her failing to establish that critical distance. As it turned out, Rousey struggled immensely to force exchanges to take place on her own terms. She was constantly getting outmaneuvered and walking into counters.

The few times she did get in close, Holm was able to escape—and even take Rousey down. Holm’s ability to establish her critical distance played a large role in her doing the unthinkable. Rousey was kept at range so long, and getting so frustrated, that she made the same mistake Gilbert Melendez did—she attacked too aggressively once she got to her critical distance. First she took Holm down once and went into sprint grappling mode to attack an armbar, but gave Holm the space to pop out. Later she got her favorite head control after wobbling Holm with a left hook and went for a throw immediately, but without breaking Holm’s posture or off-balancing her in any way. Holm kept a low center of gravity and strong balance, which made it easy for her to pop her hips forward and lift Rousey.

Finally, the finish came as Rousey walked into a perfectly-timed left straight, then ate a beautiful left high kick as Holm pushed her back into the ideal distance for that kick.

By forcing the fight to take place at her preferred range, Holm limited Rousey’s offensive output and created a ton of opportunities to hurt her. When Rousey was able to get to the inside, she felt the need to capitalize too quickly and made mistakes with both her positioning and timing. Rousey had nothing for Holm on the outside (and only a punchers chance in the pocket), but Holm was prepared to compete with her on the inside. Not to actually win an entire fight there, of course, but to control the nature of those few close range exchanges and get back to her critical distance as soon as possible. By establishing her critical distance, Holm was able to dominate and knock out the most dominant champion in UFC history. 

Practical Takeaways:

Critical distance is a major factor to consider in every single fight. The better we understand each fighter’s critical distance, what tools make that their preferred range and what skills they have to force the fight to take place there, the better we can understand what each man needs to do in order to maximize his chances for offense (hit) and minimize the opportunities he presents to his opponent (don’t get hit). The UFC’s next pay per view on December 12 offers some incredibly interesting stylistic matchups—Aldo vs McGregor, Weidman vs Rockhold, Jacare vs Romero, Holloway vs Stephens, etc.—and will make an excellent study for those interesting in honing their analytical skills and training their eyes.

For those looking to apply this concept to their own training, critical distance is an important tool in understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. The entire point of strategy is matching up your strengths and weaknesses with those of your opponent, so awareness of your critical distance gives you a goal to work towards. It also gives you a foundation to guide your training, as you develop accessory skills that allow you to funnel fights towards your strengths and force exchanges to occur at the range you fight best at. For example, a pressure fighter who likes to work in the pocket needs to learn head movement while stepping forward in order to get to medium range safely, but also angles and framing to avoid being held if the opponent tries to smother him. In future articles, we will discuss more of the “how” behind controlling distance, now that we understand the “why”.

Event Review - Winter War 2015

Winter War!

Vital Stats
Sport - Dagorhir
Date - November 5th-7th, 2015
Location - Trenton, South Carolina
Attendance - 570
Amount of Fighting - Very Good
Quality of Fighting - Good

Atmosphere - Very Good
Attitudes - Very Good
Site Amenities - Good

Overall Worthiness - Very Good

Warlords Brett and Brennon traveled to Winter War from Dallas. It was approximately a 14 hour drive that took approximately six months to complete. That's a LONG drive to make overnight. We arrived at 8am on Friday morning and setup camp. The event site was already pretty full, and we were number 400 through gate. Another 150 people showed up after us and things got REALLY tight. That's the first of my two minor complaints about the site: There wasn't enough camping, and the camping space wasn't laid out very well. The site needs a one-way main loop to handle car traffic and about twice as many camping spaces.

The fighting was really solid and plentiful from 11am on Friday until 1am Saturday morning and again from 11am on Saturday until 3am on Sunday morning. The games tended towards meat grinders. Meat grinders aren't really my thing, but everybody seemed to enjoy them. I had a good time in the ones I participated in. The mechanics were generally pretty neat for the games, but I felt like a life pool for each team would have led to more tactical and interesting fighting rather than just a long grind to run the timer out.

The night fighting was really pretty solid. My second minor complaint is that while the battle arena was well lit, it needs to be larger. About twice that size. We had people standing around on the sides that would have fought at night if there was more room to do it. Nevertheless, I fought as much as I wanted to, and that's kind of a lot. So that made me pretty pleased.

Highlights for me:
* Getting to fight Braun, Bel, Aiden, and Checkers. Those guys are all really solid fighters with a lot of potential. Looking forward to seeing some of them teach at SKBC in 2016.

* Spear Noodling with Batman. In the gauntlet meat grinder battle Batman got fed up with the enemy polearms and concocted a plan: He dives in and jumps on the spears when they stab and grabs hold for dear life. Then I pull him out by his backpack shield and we rip the pole out of the users hands and steal it. We got four or five poles in a five minute period. It was pretty hilarious.

* In the Four Horseman tournament watching Aiden plow into a much bigger dude from the side and slam him up against the fighting arena railing, drop him like a bad habit, then proceed to wail on him until they guy indicated dead by curling into the fetal position and cowering. As Aiden walked away the dude sprawled out and mumbled "What did *I do* to make him mad at me?"

* Hanging out with Arc, Snowman, Bear, the Albion guys, and the Seraphim kids.

Definitely on my list to attend next year.

How To Build A Lightsaber

Build Your Own Lightsaber

All credit for this tutorial goes to Joshua Grey Williamson

Posted by Joshua Grey Williamson on Saturday, October 17, 2015

You will need:

1) Flash Light.  They have a few different listings for the same flashlight some come with battery some with out mind which you get.…/Ultra%20Bright%20CREE%20XML%20T6%20LE…

2) Battery. I strongly recommend you go with the 18650 Battery option rather 3AAA as the 18650 are rechargeable and you will not have to remove your pommel every time you need to change the AAA.

3) FormuClear 1/2 in. x 5 ft. Furniture Grade Sch. 40 PVC Pipe in Clear…/206028369

4) Plain white startertube 4$

5) Loctite repair putty x 2 tubes

6) Clear Tape or Aethertape

7) Duct Tape

8) 1” reflective button as a tip reflector. You see them at all the cons. Use Zombie ones for extra strength or Flash one's for speed (Note we do not need the pin just take it out)

9) 8 to 10 1/4” washers

10) Premium opaque white tights

Step One - Flashlight Break Down

1 - Unscrew all of the upper focus rings on top of the flashlight and throw them out. All you're going keep is the lense and its casing.

2 - Next you're going to use the Loctite putty to glue the flashlight focuser into place on it's tightest setting possible. Adjust it so at it narrowest beam you'll be able to see a nice well defined squard shape of the LED on the wall when you have it right. Fill the 4 holes with the Loctite with a little bit of over lap locking the houseing in place at max focus. Let it set.

Step Two - The Battery

Unscrew the back for the battery. The 18650 battery fits very loose inside. Use tape to build up the battery so it's a snug fit. Next, tape washers together into a stack for the top and the bottom of the battery so it bridges the gap between the positive and negative leads from the battery to the flashlight. Make sure you don't tape either the top or the bottom of the washer stack; We need to conduct current through those ends.

Step Three - Set the Core

Cut the PVC to the length you want for the blade. Once you've got it sized, use the rest of the Loctite to bond the PVC to the flashlight. Make sure you have a good idea of what you're doing before you start bonding; The Loctite is only good for about five minutes once you mix it. You want to form a shell 2.5" up the PVC and 2" down the flashlight. Stop just before the button on the flashlight. This is going to be what holds our saber together, so make sure it's a nice even cover over putty with no gaps.

Step Four - The Button

Attach the 1" reflective button to the stabbing-end tip of your core. This will bounce any light back down the core and diffuse the light a bit throughout the blade. 

Step Five - Finish the Sword

1 - Glue the Startertube to the PVC core using original formula DAP and let it sit overnight.

2 - Put your stab tip onto the end of the tube, leaving the reflective button in-place underneath.

3 - Tape your sword up thoroughly using Aethertape or other clear plastic tape.

4 - Put the cover on the sword and tape it down. at the base.

Go kill some Sith Lords

The Role of Speed in Combat, Part 1: Perception

Originally published on and re-printed here with their permission

“So Fast.”

This is one of the most common compliments I hear about top fighters, but it is also one of the most inaccurate. Most top fighters do not have reaction speed any greater than that of the average player. Some are even slower than average. Yet the perception of “so fast” persists. There are a number of reasons for this. Today we’ll look at the first one.

What may be the largest factor in this perception of speed, ironically, has to do with speed of perception. As a fighter becomes more skilled, they are able to perceive more information about their opponent more quickly. As a fighter grows more practiced, he builds up a “language” of body movements. By “chunking” the individual information components of opponent position, muscle movement, and balance into the “words” of this language, the fighter is able to rapidly process and understand a large body of information. Whereas a novice unschooled in this language might have to read the individual letters of “elbow lift”, “slight torso rotation”, “sword shoulder pulled to the inside”, “hand back”, “weight shift”, and a host of other letters, the experience fighter reads “beginning to high cross.”

This is something well documented in all areas of expertise. Chess players learn to read boards so that they can instantly recognize a pattern of play. (1) Tennis players learn to read opponent position to predict where a return will land. (2) Mostly, this is a subconscious learning process that the expert cannot easy verbally express to those who do not have the language. To demonstrate the utility of this type of language building, there is a classic example from natural language. Consider the letters “oeos ni mts tmhh eaglndse“. Without looking back, how many do you remember, in order? You don’t have a “language” for that. Now consider the letters “glen is the most handsome“. Now how many letters can you list off, in order? All of them. Because you have a “language” for that that let you chunk the data into manageable chunks. Same letters. Fighters have, over much time, built up a language of movement that they’re reading when they face an opponent.

There are a number of important implications of this language. The first one is that, the better someone knows the language, the less information to have to provide to convey a message. This is due to the anticipatory nature of expert perception. (3) Because the expert has tools for chunking their perceptions into manageable numbers of data elements and they have an ability to predict what the message will be. As a side effect of this, they will focus on the area where they expect new activity or information to occur. In fighting, better fighters understand the language of fighting better, so they can predict what the message will be with less information. Which letters are missing from this: “sf_e l_ _j as_i” How about now: “jle_ i_ s_ fas_“? Having the language makes it easier to get meaning before all the information is in.

A second implication is that the anticipatory nature of expert perception makes is susceptible to being misled. When you are trying to sell a feint to another fighter, the better the fighter the more minimal the feint has to be. It also can make it easier to sell fakes in some cases. If you’ve heard “jlee is so fast!” enough times, you’re going to jump to that conclusion when you see “____ i_ so ____!“, when this time I was tricking you and the message is “tato is so huge!“.

The logical question from those seeking to join the ranks of top fighters is, “how do I learn this language?” The answer is simple: effort and immersion. First, the student of this language must make an active effort to learn it if they want to accelerate their learning. Focus on why your opponent is doing as well as what they are doing. Make an effort to predict your opponent. Fight in a manner that requires you to predict your opponent’s actions, as opposed to the manner that just lets you “win.” Talk to your opponent about what happened and what they did and what you noticed them doing. Expert instruction that highlights key aspects of reading an action can also be extremely beneficial.

Second, do a great deal of fighting. Developing proficiency in reading this language will take thousands of hours of practice. Just being told about it is not sufficient (4), and too much explicit instruction can impose a cognitive load that can actually decrease performance. (5) In simpler terms, if you give people too much to think about they’ll botch it because they spent too much time thinking instead of doing. Guided practice is the best approach. Lots and lots of guided practice. However, it is still important to ensure that you have the fundamentals of fighting down before you start trying to work on your perceptual skills. (6)

Top fighters are not particularly faster in reaction time or movement speed than other players. They are benefitting from superior skill. Foremost among those skills is an ability to rapidly perceive and anticipate what their opponent is doing. This is due to the expert having built up a “language” that allows them to process information about the opponent’s movements in a smaller number of easy-to-process “chunks” of information, rather than having to process every element of the opponent’s action separately, which would impose an impossible cognitive load. Developing this language is the result of long hours of exposure and effort at reading an opponent. This development can be accelerated through the use of guided learning with an expert who can highlight key cues as the student practices perception and action.

(1) Chase, William G., and Herbert A. Simon. “Perception in chess.” Cognitive psychology 4.1 (1973): 55-81.

(2) Shim, Jaeho, et al. “The use of anticipatory visual cues by highly skilled tennis players.” Journal of motor behavior 37.2 (2005): 164-175.

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